Podcast: TMD and what patients and dentists need to know

Hello and welcome to Ascent Dental Radio. A program dedicated to the balance between the clinical aspect of health care and the business of health care. And now here is your host, Dr. Kevin Coughlin.

Kevin: Welcome. This is Dr. Kevin Coughlin. You’re listening to Ascent Dental Radio, where the focus is on knowledge, consultation, development and training. I believe this is the 40th podcast that we’ve been doing and it wouldn’t be possible without the special help of my production and consulting guru, Mr. Doug Foresta. His company, Stand Out and Be Heard is responsible for the webinars and the podcast and I always like to give a shout out to think him very much for his expertise and his talent in this regard.

Today, we have a topic of temporomandibular joint. For most of the listeners you’ve been hearing me and listening to me focus on the business of dentistry, but I want you to know that I am a clinician and have been practicing for 35 years as a general dentist in all areas of dentistry.

Over and over again I get questions and comments about Temporomandibular Joint disorders or TMJ and I thought today’s podcast might be valuable to the listeners on how do we treat TMD issues and what’s going on in the field. I’m proud to say that I’m going to have some questions asked to me today. Those are general questions and if you have specific questions, you can reach me on www.ascent-dental-solutions.com. I’m very good about checking and getting back to you with specific questions. Doug, what’s your first question?

Doug: Thank you, Kevin. It’s a pleasure to be here. My first question for you is what is TMJ or TMD? Can you explain what that is?

Kevin: For the lay patients listening to this podcast, TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint. It’s the acronym for the most complicated joint in the human body and it’s located right in front of your ear canals on the right and left side. For the clinicians listening, we refer to the problems, the signs, the symptoms of temporomandibular joint as TMD or Temporomandibular Disorders or Dysfunction and there are a slew of them. Many times, the patient will come into the office and say, “Dr. Coughlin, I have a TMJ issue.” And my response is everyone has a TMJ, but not everyone has TMD issues. Hopefully, that answers that question.

Doug: Thank you. What are some of the patient signs and symptoms then of those TMD issues?

Kevin: I would say, in my 35-year career working pretty much five days a week, sometimes six days a week, a day has not transpired where a patient or an employee or team member hasn’t said, “Dr. Coughlin, I have pain, stiffness, popping or clicking in the joint region.” And when I say the joint region, I’m referring to the temporomandibular joint. Generally, the complaints are pain and discomfort and a limited range of motion.

I would say to the clinicians out there I have been doing expert evaluations for insurance companies for close to 30 years and the vast majority of the cases I review are TMD disorders and over and over again, I feel that the records that have been taken by the diagnosticians, the dentists in particular, are less than adequate and could be greatly improved by following some simple rules. I would strongly suggest to the clinician that on every single patient you document Range of Motion, ROM, not only vertically, laterally, but also protrusively.

This means, you have the patient open vertically as wide as possible without causing any pain or discomfort and for the average adult that should be close to 60 millimeters. If you want to save a lot of time and a lot of aggravation, generally, if you take your hand and use your forefingers and put them on top of each other and place them from the incisal edge of the upper anterior teeth to the incisal edge of the lower anterior teeth, you’re going to get about 60 millimeters. If you eliminate your baby finger, that will be about 50 millimeters and that would give you a good indication that the patient’s range of motion vertically is within normal limits.

Laterally, you have the patient bring their jaw all the way to the right and then all the way to the left and generally, that should be about four to six millimeters right and left to be an adequate range of motion laterally. Protusively, you’d like to see the patient move their lower jaw forward, at least, 6 to 10 millimeters anteriorly or protusively.

I would strongly recommend prior to the removal of wisdom teeth, prior to any orthodontic care or any extensive treatment where the patient’s jaw is going to be open for any significant length of time, let’s say more than 30 minutes, make sure your charts document range of motion.

The next item that I think is critical is during this range of motions, you want to document if the patient has any deflections or deviations. A deviation simply means when the patient is opening their mouth vertically, the jaw deviates either to the right or to the left and does not come back to the mid-line. This is an indication when the jaw deviates to the right that more than likely, the temporomandibular joint on the patient’s right side is not functioning properly.

Just going back to some basic anatomy and physiology, the first 25 millimeters of opening, the temporomandibular jaw rotates. After 25 millimeters, it translates down and forward. So when you see the patient’s jaw deviate to the right in this particular exercise, you know that the left TMJ is rotating and translating properly, but the right TMJ is not and it’s a pretty good indication that that joint is not healthy and is not in a correct position. And usually, the culprit is the meniscus or the disc that separates the temporal bone from the mandibula bone.

The next documentation would be a deflection. This simply means that the jaw upon maximum opening deflects either to the right or to the left, but comes back to the mid-line. So the opening is almost an S-shape. This means that the joints are not working properly. But in most cases, the disc has been recaptured and it allows the jaw to come back to the mid-line. Whereas in a deviation, that disc is not allowing proper translation and is most likely not being recaptured.

The critical thing here in this particular podcast is to give you a few simple inexpensive tips to improve your diagnostic records and your diagnosis and to help your patients and also to protect you since in my 35 years of experience, most patients have some temporomandibular joint signs and symptoms prior to dental treatment.

And then the dental treatment triggers the episode of pain and discomfort and the patient immediately associates it as a dental problem that was caused by a dentist when it actuality, the problem was predisposing. But because the records are inadequate in the documentation of range of motion, deviations and deflections have not been adequately documented. How about another question, Doug?

Doug: I was going to say, I know I was doing it as you were speaking, I could picture our listeners moving their jaws back and forth as you were talking about that. What are the treatment options for TMD?

Kevin: The first thing that I would tell our clinicians and for patients listening is you’ll never get success unless you have a proper diagnosis. And you’ll never get a proper diagnosis unless you have appropriate dental and medical records. The fundamentals and basics are a thorough medical history and a thorough dental history. To augment those two bits of information, I would strongly recommend that there be a complete clinical palpation and exam of the head and neck region, with emphasis on the medial and lateral pterygoids, the temporalis and masseter muscle, which are the four major muscles of mastication or the muscles responsible for chewing and function.

Palpation of these muscles, which start almost if you could just put your finger above your ear and move it forward in the shape of a question mark, you’ll be palpating the posterior middle and anterior temporalis muscles on the right and left side above the ear.

From there, you will go down and palpate the masseter muscles and if you clinch your teeth together, you’ll feel a bulge in front of your ear and those are typically the masseter muscles. Those are the two large muscles responsible for a large majority of the pain and discomfort.

During the palpation examination and the clinical examination, tenderness to these four muscles of mastication usually indicate that there’s a muscular problem and a muscular cause of the patient’s pain.

Also, you’ll find customarily, the patient will complain of tension and stress headaches, many times sometimes misdiagnosed as migraine headaches, and they’re really caused by the clenching and squeezing down of the upper and lower teeth together. And that constant aggravation causes spasm in these muscles which cause pain and that pain emanates from around the ear, in the head and neck region.

Next, you should have upper and lower diagnostic impressions so that we can see what your teeth look like and how they function. On top of that, I would suggest radiographic examination so we can determine the health and the condition of the temporomandibular joint. Typically, this would be a cephalometric view or a panoramic view and sometimes, we can even do a temporomandibular joint view. The more views, the greater the likelihood we’ll see damage and injury to the joint.

We can sometimes, depending on the severity of the problem, we may want to augment these diagnostics tools with an MRI or a CAT scan. But in most cases, for this particular type of podcast, I would function on the easy reversible treatments and diagnosis first to distinguish is the joint problem purely muscular or is it what we call internal derangement or intracapsular disease where there are some orthotic condition and the disc is not in its proper condition.

And there is sometimes, and actually many times, a combination of both problems, which makes the treatment in the diagnosis sometimes confusing and difficult.

After the proper diagnosis is done and records are done, generally, the treatment are broken into phase one and phase two types of treatment. The phase one treatment is simply to get the patient comfortable. And if it’s a muscular problem, we can many times test this by putting you on a pharmaceutical medication called Flexeril, generally, 10 milligrams, either in the morning or at night or a combination of both, to see if the patient’s signs and symptoms decrease. If they do, you’re pretty clear that you’re dealing with a muscular situation.

The next thing, in my 35 years of experience treating TMD disorders, is what we call Anterior Misguidance. You’ll find that your patient occludes or contacts the anterior teeth prematurely. Generally, these people tend to be very good looking in nature and generally, their teeth appear to be straight, but their upper anterior teeth are vertical. They have very little angulation and the angulation on the upper anterior teeth should be closer to 110 degrees.

And in most cases these upper teeth are up and down vertically so when the patient’s lower jaw goes into occlusion or opens and closes, the anterior teeth hit prematurely, causing the mandible to move backwards, irritating the ears, creating tinnitus, ear aches, neck, upper back pains and a tingling in the joint and just general discomfort.

A quick test for the patients and clinicians is to put your index finger lightly on teeth 7, 8, 9 and 10 or your upper anterior teeth and tap your lower teeth gently. If you feel a vibration or fremitus in that region, it’s a pretty good indication that the patient is suffering from anterior disclusion or malocclusion.

And a simple task would be to create some type of orthotic, sometimes referred to as a Night Guard, even those that’s inappropriate, to not allow the upper and lower anterior teeth to touch. Keep them out of occlusion and determine how the patient responds. If they immediately feel that they no longer are getting headaches or the headaches are reduced, the range of motion improves and their joints are no longer tender, then you know you’re dealing with some anterior misguidance. And you can correct this problem in phase two with some adult orthodontics.

Doug: Let me ask you this, Dr. Coughlin, the question that I think especially for patients would want to know, what is the cost generally of these treatments?

Kevin: I’d like to get as much as I possibly can, but that’s probably unprofessional and unethical. In fairness, it’s an excellent question. But generally, the diagnostic records will probably range somewhere between $175 and $650. As far as the actual treatment is concerned, the orthotics or the temporomandibular joint appliances and generally I would recommend one appliance for the lower jaw to be worn during the daytime and then an upper appliance to be worn at bedtime so you don’t wear both appliances simultaneously, what you’re trying to do is balance the jaw and keep in mind that this treatment approach is reversible.

It’s basically a phase one type of treatment to make sure your diagnosis is accurate and you’re providing value and care to your patient. Those orthotics can range from anywhere from about $850 to $2,250 per appliance and in most cases, the patient will need two appliances.

The course of care and treatment during this phase one is anywhere from three to six months and the patient is generally seen about every 14 to 21 days for adjustments and checks. Those visits are broken into short, medium and long, and the visit fees will range anywhere from $45 to $95 per visit. Please, keep in mind, I never hesitate to quote fees or recommend fees to give the audience some general guidelines, but the fees are general and they will be determined by the individual providing the care and treatment.

That is generally phase one type of treatment. If we find that the patient has responded and they’re doing quite well, their signs and symptoms have been eliminated or significantly reduced, a fair number of patients go into what we call a Phase Two type of treatment.

The phase two treatment is instead of wearing these orthotics day in and day out, we try to use a combination of orthodontics, prosthodontics to align, level and rotate the teeth to the new jaw position so that the orthotics or appliances are no longer necessary. That type of treatment can run into the several thousand dollar category. In most cases, the orthodontic care can run anywhere from about $3,850 to about $7,200 depending on how much and how we’re going to move these teeth.

In some cases, if the patient has a beautiful dentition with little to no dental disease, I will push the patient and guide them more towards and orthodontic type of treatment. If the patient has significant restorations, existing amalgams, composites, crowns or fillings on the teeth, I many times will suggest using a prosthetic type of treatment rather than orthodontics. The reason for that is the patient gets a double whammy. Not only does their jaw feel comfortable and their bite feel correct, but the cosmetics are improved significantly.

And in some severe cases, the patient will need a combination of both treatments. Keep in mind the physiology of the human body we cannot move the jaw indiscriminately as far as we want or as needed in some cases, and in those rare cases, a surgical approach is sometimes needed.

And that’s categorized as orthognathic maxillomandibular facial surgery. These are cases where positioning the jaw, even with the most up-to-date orthodontic care and prostatic care is not adequate. We actually have to surgically reposition the upper and lower jaw to the get the patient in that phase two success.

Doug: Would that be covered by insurance?

Kevin: In most cases, in my experience, once you’re going into the surgical phase, in most cases, that would be covered by your medical insurance because there would be a letter of medical necessity and no longer will your dental insurance be involved. I should comment a little bit on the fee structure for the dentist and for the patients listening to this podcast; my personal opinion is temporomandibular joint of TMD issues are medical issues.

The debate is the medical insurance feels that it should be billed through dental, the dental feels it should be billed through medical. But make no mistake about it. The temporomandibular joint is a joint and it is a medical procedure and a medical treatment, in my personal opinion, even though in many cases the individuals best suited to treat these most common problems are dentists.

Doug: That makes a lot of sense. I really appreciate it, Kevin. Thank you so much for sharing on this important topic of TMD and what people need to know.

Kevin: Thank you, Doug, very much. I just want to leave the listeners with what I call the 3 Ps. I would strongly recommend as you see your TMD patients, look for the 3 Ps. The first P is what was the patient’s precipitating event? It’s either going to be macro or micro trauma.

The second P is why are they predisposed? The patient usually will have a class two division one or a class two division two, malocclusion or a recessive mandibula or retrusive lower jaw. The third is what’s perpetuating the problem? So the three Ps are Precipitating, Predisposed and Perpetuating.

The perpetuating problem is TMD patients typically are clenchers. They’re constantly over exercising and irritating the muscles of mastication. When you can identify the three Ps and are comfortable with those 3 Ps, then you’ll probably have an excellent result in treatment and the patients will be happy and you will find that the treatment of TMD can be extremely rewarding and very cost-effective once you understand the basic principles.

You’ve been listening to Ascent Radio. My name is Dr. Kevin Coughlin. If you have particular questions, don’t hesitate to reach me through my website www.ascent-dental-solutions.com.

My special thanks to Mr. Foresta, whose company is Stand Out and Be Heard and is responsible for the professional production of the webinars and podcasts that you’ve been listening to. Thank you very much and Doug, thank you for your questions.